It's the second day back from a week-long spring break, and about half of the high-school students in Travis Blue and Wayne McDade's class at John Marshall Alternative School are new. All 14 students assembled here were expelled from mainstream high schools (Nathan Hale, Garfield, Roosevelt, etc.) for a variety of reasons (assault, drugs, class disruptiveness, etc.). They must now take classes at Marshall until they are deemed fit to return to a mainstream school.

This may be the students' last chance, because if they screw up here--if they do something to get expelled from this school--they're g-o-n-e gone, permanently expelled from the Seattle School District. And Travis Blue is always watching. He's been making mental notes all day about who's been behaving. And he's already made one important note in his record sheet--eight students are absent today, bringing themselves one step closer to being dropped from the program.

Right now, the students are in the job counselor's office, where they are getting tips on how to find gainful employment. The counselor, Claude Greene, makes sure everyone is seated before he slips in an ancient instructional videotape. The video features a 1980s-era, Casey Casem type cheerfully dispensing advice, juxtaposed with stilted white actors pretending to learn valuable lessons about the job market.

By the end of the video, a 16-year-old African American student named James is anxious and irritated. Counselor Greene and teacher Blue both tell him to settle down, but he won't.

"I can't get no job," James says flatly. "I got a felony."

Greene doesn't seem to understand what James is saying, so James repeats himself. "I got a felony. I've turned in so many job applications, and guess how many have called me?" He's now standing up, his body rigid.

"None," one of the other students ventures.

"Exactly. Egg-zaaact-ly."

"But did you see the woman who got the job at the bank--" Greene begins optimistically. The woman got a job because a friend of a friend had good connections.

"I ain't going to get no job at no bank!" James retorts. He turns his back on the class and faces the window.

"Well, you're just not trying hard enough!" Greene tells him.

After the students spend a little time filling out job applications, they move on to the classroom next door, where they are shown more videos, these illustrating the dangers of gangs. Once ensconced in that darkened classroom, James starts to talk and fidget. Blue gives him the usual Marshall treatment, a lesson in something called behavior modification. He takes him out in the hallway and lectures him on respecting other people's time. Later, Blue will have to decide whether he should deduct points from James' participation scores for today's outbursts.

Welcome to Last Chance High.


John Marshall Alternative School is located on Northeast Ravenna Boulevard, just next to the Interstate 5 interchange at Northeast 65th Street. The neighborhood is Green Lake, a curious place for such a school. Even Marshall's blockish, dark-brick building looks out of place; such an antiquated edifice sticks out near Green Lake's wide bicycle lanes, pricey Thai restaurants, and of course, brand-name coffeehouses. With the dramatic exception of Marshall, everything in this area of Seattle seems modern, sanitized, and optimistic.

"John Marshall Alternative School is a small, safe learning community," reads a recent grant application Marshall administrators sent to the Gates Foundation. The school "accepts students" who have "difficulty fitting into the traditional high schools in Seattle." Marshall "is an environment in which students and staff experience closer relationships, in which mentoring and counseling are offered along with academics."

Buried in the application are the school's rough realities. Marshall may have an accredited middle school and high school, but it also has what the Seattle School District calls a "re-entry" program for both middle school and high-school students. Blue and McDade run the high-school re-entry program, which is filled with students sent from all over the school district because the regular public school teachers just couldn't deal with them. Here's a telling statistic about these students, according to one teacher: In all, about 75 percent of the students have been assigned a social worker or a probation officer. Or both.

And apparently, the re-entry students aren't the only hard-case students whom Marshall accepts. The school also boasts the Graduation Reality and Dual Role Skills (GRADS) program, for students who are either pregnant or already parents. GRADS comes complete with a certified daycare center. Marshall is also home to a program for students with "higher emotional disabilities and/or particular behavioral histories."

Marshall is a place that a couple of the faculty members, during brief moments of cynical, off-the-record candor, refer to as the Seattle school system's "dumping ground."

When I call Marshall Principal Joseph Drake to arrange an interview, he is immediately suspicious. Public high school principals, caught between the school district and the teachers' unions, don't often respond well to media inquiries. After a little conversation, however, Drake thaws and agrees to an interview. He also offers a stern warning in a low, gruff voice. "I want the truth," he says, "because if you distort anything I say, I'm going to come after you and print my own truth."

Drake, a veteran of the Seattle School District, is an African American in his late 50s. He has the shoulders and girth of a bear, which he uses to his advantage when walking the school halls. Over the next few weeks, I'll get to know him as a straightforward, if moody, school official who looks on the adversities of Marshall with a grizzled, seen-it-all eye. During my first interview, however, he says little, letting the school counselor, Tom Griffith, and Marshall's "community connections coordinator," Doug Gochanour, do the talking. Drake watches me skeptically, as if he were searching out a hidden agenda. Since I've arrived on a day when school is not in session, all three men are dressed casually--jeans and button-down shirts.

Griffith and Gochanour lay out the facts. The kids who find themselves at Marshall are not destined for Princeton or Harvard. Expectations for these kids are rather low. It's considered a success when someone gets accepted into a community college. "It's a rare exception for a student to go straight to a four-year university after graduation," Griffith says. "We have kids here who've been expelled from other schools for assault and weapons possessions." Not only that, but the students' learning abilities can vary wildly, from the third-grade level to the 12th-grade level in math and reading.

Administrators estimate that a total of 700 students were enrolled at Marshall at different times throughout last year. At any given time, however, there are only about 225 students enrolled at the school. When the school filled out its Gates Foundation application (which was later rejected), it estimated that, in mid-February, 36 percent of the students were black, 28 percent were white, 25 percent were Latino, 8 percent were Asian, and 4 percent were Native American. More recent statistics reveal that the gender breakdown hovers around 63 percent male, 37 percent female.

Some of these kids came voluntarily, Griffith says, because they didn't "fit in" at the other schools. ("We have kids here with pink hair, combat boots, and pierced noses," Drake says.)

The re-entry program gets the most attention, however, because for all intents and purposes it is a misbehaving student's last chance to stay in the Seattle School District. With such a difficult student body to deal with, the school doesn't just employ certified teachers for its re-entry programs. It also staffs a crew of Corrections Education Associates (CEAs), faculty members trained to work with the teachers to keep order in the classroom. These CEAs take over the classroom for an hour every afternoon with a class of their own: "Behavior Modification."

Because of the large number of problems each Marshall student brings into the classroom, academics plays a secondary role here. Yet, at the same time, Marshall is expected to participate in the state's standardized testing like any other school. This seems like a bit of a joke to Marshall's administrators, considering that the teachers rarely ever have the same students on any given day. In the re-entry classes, a new, academically challenged student may arrive weekly, often just in time to bring down the school's test scores. Moreover, those students are not tracked after they leave Marshall, so no one knows what kind of impact Marshall has on the pupils who pass through. And, with the exception of a few anecdotal stories, no one can really tell you how well Marshall's alumni turn out.

The Seattle School District doesn't set specific guidelines as to how students will graduate out of the re-entry program. Instead, Marshall's re-entry teachers and CEAs set those standards. During one "cycle," or five-week class period, if a student receives a 90 percent score in attendance and participation, that student can get transferred back to a mainstream school. (Many move over to Marshall's regular high-school and middle-school classes, but the rest voluntarily go straight back into the mainstream public school system.) Participation at Marshall means doing class assignments and speaking when called on. But after spending a week at John Marshall Alternative School, I discovered that getting out is really about behavior modification, the fine art of showing up for school and learning to keep your mouth shut. These two rules are easier for some to follow than for others.


In the middle school re-entry program, there's a student named Juan. Juan is a peach-fuzzied, hyperkinetic young man who has an affection for Roca Wear clothing. I first saw Juan when he and a few other students were getting hands-on lessons in drama, in a class taught by some visiting members of Seattle Public Theater, a Capitol Hill theater group. Juan stole the class with his acting skills; he was unanimously praised for his ability to impersonate mentally ill people on public transit. Later that morning, however, Juan is stuck in math class. The teacher, Amy Kendall, is going over an exercise in number sequences. Question number three is particularly difficult, and Juan is vocal in his determination to give up. "Why you asking me?!" he snaps at one point. "I don't know. I don't want to know. I don't want to know this shit."

Angie Thomas, the classroom CEA, will have none of this. She calls Juan outside. Juan gets up, picks up his desk, threatens to overturn it, and then sets it gingerly on the floor. Once outside, Thomas lectures him on the meaning of respect and hard work. A full minute later, Juan slinks back into class. He sits down and is quiet for the rest of the period. VoilĂ ! Behavior modification.

The entire class period is devoured just going over four number-sequence questions. Near the end of the period, Thomas wanders around the room and looks at everybody's answers. When she gets to Juan, she sees that he has completed the assignment correctly. Thomas changes her tone from admonishing to encouraging. "We've gotta talk, man, because you're really good," she tells him.

Juan looks around the room. "I forget numbers," he says, allowing himself a tentative smile.


CEAs Thomas and Chanda Oatis, two idealistic black women in their late 20s, join me for lunch at a Red Robin. When I ask about the kinds of students who come through the school, both CEAs avoid labels. All the teachers and officials at Marshall employ a scrupulous political correctness to avoid labeling the students, other than to say that the vast majority of them come from economically challenged backgrounds and need help. But Thomas and Oatis do venture to divide their re-entry students into two categories: those who act out in class because the class material is too challenging, and those who act out in class because they're too smart, "bored by the lesson."

There's also a third category: Occasionally there's a new student who got screwed by the school district's obsessive zero-tolerance policies. A 1998 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, for example, noted that at least 13 students had been expelled that year from regular public schools for the crime of bringing a toy gun into class. And all the teachers and CEAs recall one student who was expelled from Roosevelt after he revealed that he had a knife in his backpack. Marshall faculty felt that the student was unjustly expelled for two reasons. First, the knife wasn't discovered--the youth had volunteered the information to security. Second, the student had voluntarily offered to return the knife to his car before entering the football game he was trying to attend.

"But," Thomas insists, "the students here need behavior lessons across the board, starting with the simple lesson of doing unto others what you would have them do unto you."

What's more, the students are supervised with a scrutiny that an earlier generation might have called Orwellian; these days, it's called "early intervention." For example, every morning in the middle school re-entry class, the students write in their journal. They can write about whatever they want, and often find themselves writing about their latest problems--parents, drugs, siblings, whatever. These are not private diaries; teachers read these journals. If a student intimates that he or she might want to fight another student, the CEA or the teacher will take the angry student aside. If there's a problem between the students, then the faculty member assumes the role of mediator, sitting the two bickering students down until they've worked out their differences.

"It has to do with trust," Oatis says. "I tell them they're not going to get along with everybody in their life, and with anger they give away their power." If a student still says he or she wants to fight another student, then the CEA will send the student to the vice principal for disciplinary action. "I get a better reaction from boys," Thomas laughs. "I know it's stereotypical, but girls are so catty. They get upset and they stay upset."


Take a tour of many regular high schools in urban America and you will encounter a paranoia once reserved for minimum-security prisons. There may be fencing around the entire school. The front doors are equipped with permanent metal detectors, a full security staff, and a militaristic impatience for whatever smacks of disobedience.

Not at Marshall. Outsiders who walk through the alternative school's doors are rarely confronted by anyone. The school's cavernous halls are rarely patrolled. Students occasionally wander the building during class hours without being stopped and interrogated. Outside the school, you can often find two or three teenagers standing around in racially mixed groups, puffing on cigarettes with a practiced carelessness. The students wear whatever they want (although no style here is particularly dominant, fashion tastes range from a light punk aesthetic to a suburban bland to an urban street chic).

"Discipline is not tremendous," says Assistant Principal Lou Willner. "It's not too different from other schools. It's not Blackboard Jungle, if that's what you're asking. You don't get the feeling at Marshall that you have to watch your back every second."

Willner, a heavyset man with a serious demeanor who often makes small harrumphing noises to himself, is Marshall's chief disciplinarian. At lunchtime, Willner typically leaves the school grounds to wander around the surrounding Green Lake neighborhood. Like the city's other public high schools, Marshall does not have a cafeteria designed to accommodate all the students. Instead, the school's lunchtime hour is "open campus." Students can walk to the deli in the nearby Albertson's Food & Grocery, but they are expected to pay attention to the clock and return in time for the next class. It's a personal responsibility that some take seriously--and some don't.

Willner casually strolls down a residential street toward the Albertson's. We make small talk about the twin criteria required to transfer out of re-entry class: good attendance and participation. For some, attendance itself is the biggest challenge. Some students just never come to school. "They're not stupid," Willner opines, "but they're not successful because they don't show up."

When Willner does spot students during his lunchtime walkabout, he doesn't try to catch up with them. Instead, he slows down or even turns course. He sometimes offers a nod to a student, a polite signal that the student is not in danger of getting into trouble. "I don't want to give anybody the impression that I'm following them," he says carefully.

As we walk into and then out of the Albertson's, we find ourselves behind several Marshall students. Three young females are walking 15 yards ahead of four young men. The boys are throwing Chips Ahoy! cookies at the girls and laughing. It's hard to tell whether the girls like this treatment or not. Regardless, Willner doesn't do anything about it. He points at one of the boys, whose drooping jeans threaten to slide off his lean hips. "We have a rule against sagging pants," Willner harrumphs, "but it's hard to enforce it because it's a style thing."


Tony, a slight, bespectacled 15-year-old, keeps to himself as he sits close to the door in Travis Blue and Wayne McDade's class. We're in the middle of the behavior modification segment of the class, and CEA McDade has told all the students to write two pages articulating their goals in life. Before I know it, Tony is offering to let me read his finished paper. Tony's writing is a dizzying array of ideas spun in an unorganized freeform. Chaotic, yes, but it is also extremely honest, a real insight into his internal debates of self-consciousness and self-confidence.

"All I want is a wife and kids. Then a good job.... I am not trying to fight, [but] I always fight, mostly because I always win.... I also want a Honda Civic. I want to get a good job and maintain it and get paid well and save. I want to take computer courses so that I can be a computer engineer or a professional car thief. You may call this dumb and I would agree; it is dumb. But if I am a failure it is the only thing I can do. I'm good at it. This is of course my second choice, because if I did this it would eliminate a lot of other goals, like having a wife and kids."

Like the others here at Marshall, Tony has bounced around different schools. He's been expelled from both the Seattle School District and from the Kitsap School District. Now that he's moved back in with his mother in West Seattle, he's trying to return to one of this city's mainstream high schools. Tony hopes that he'll be transferred to Franklin High School, because he's heard that Franklin has a good computer lab.

Marshall isn't the only public institution watching over Tony. The criminal-justice system is, too. Tony has a parole officer who's got him on a strict curfew. He has to be in his mother's house from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. every night.

Tony, who is half-Hispanic and half-Anglo, is frank about his struggles. They involve an easily combustible temper ("I hate poseurs"), a propensity for automobile theft ("I haven't really stolen a car in a while--it's been maybe a month"), and a one-time effort at dealing drugs ("It was really cool because I had a lot of money").

Now, Tony is fighting his own rebellious instincts. Behavior modification is just want he thinks he needs. "I like the structure here," Tony says of Marshall. "I'm really a whole lot better at tough schools. When I have a whole bunch of freedom I don't know what to do." Tony also praises the class faculty, his teacher Mr. Blue and CEA Mr. McDade. They are tough but fair, he says.

Since the key to "graduating" from re-entry classes is to stay out of trouble, Tony barely talks in class, and he has no intention of making friends here. If you're silent and you show up on time, it stands to reason that you're a good kid and can be mainstreamed. "My point now is to stay disciplined," he says. "I hope to get out of Marshall by the end of the year."

Terry is a long-haired white kid who dreams of being a horticulturist. He was expelled from Nathan Hale for sending an anonymous e-mail message to a teacher, accusing her, among other things, of being a slut. Terry had graduated out of the re-entry program only the week before and is now attending classes in Marshall's regular high-school program. The lightly mustachioed 16-year-old has a philosophical worldview that involves a lot of sneering. "Karma is bullshit," he informs his language-arts teacher at one point.

Terry now has one goal at Marshall, which is to "keep it low key." That's not so hard, he believes. "They're too busy fucking with some of the other people here, the ones who actually need to be fucked with." The faculty isn't even concerned about his T-shirts, which sometimes have obscenities printed on them. At Nathan Hale, he had to turn those shirts inside out whenever he wore them.

"They care about students more here at Marshall, surprisingly enough," Terry says. "You'd think that, with a bunch of bad students like us, they wouldn't care. But they're good teachers here."


I interview a few other students, both boys and girls, and the conversations take on a familiar pattern. The students view Marshall like a sort of benevolent prison, where they are doing time. They think the teachers are fair, often caring. They're not interested in making friends. They all want to keep it low key so they can return to a mainstream school.

And they are tentatively aware of their own faults. Like Tony's essay, however, those faults often come out in the form of a subconscious acknowledgment or fear that they could easily falter along the way. They worry that, as much as they are trying, it is still possible to fail in their efforts to play by society's rules. It is a sliding scale of expectations: If I can't be a well-paid Boeing engineer, I can be an automobile mechanic, and if I can't be that then I can at least stay out of a gang.

I look around the middle and high school re-entry students and I question their teachers, but I don't find anyone who was unjustly sent to Marshall based on an unfair implementation of the school system's policies. Nor do I find any of the smart, bored students whom the teachers and CEAs say sometimes come through Marshall. That doesn't mean anything, though. After all, turnover is what Marshall is all about.

The most rambunctious student in Blue and McDade's class is James, the young man with the felony who worries for his future. James is an African American male who prefers inner-city fashion. He's got a black do-rag, a dark FUBU shirt, and a deliberately ill-fitting pair of pants that hang from his hips, forcing him to walk with something that resembles both a self-conscious strut and a duck waddle. He has a cigarette tucked behind his ear, which he removes to smoke after he's gone outside. He makes occasional, non-sequitur-style outbursts in class, like the time he suddenly and hotly declared that his name was not really James but "Czechoslovakia."

James agrees to meet me one morning before school starts. He shows up on time, then suggests we talk outside. We hold the interview on the sidewalk in front of a statue of the school's forgotten mascot, the alligator. There are no competitive sports teams here at financially strapped Marshall.

James puffs on a cigarette while he talks.

"What are my goals?" he asks, repeating my question. "My goal is to get out of re-entry. And my goals for high school are to get on the football team and graduate."

I thought James might be critical of the teachers, since he was getting into trouble more than most students, but he was surprisingly upbeat. "It's a cool school," he says. "The teachers here, you can see they want you to succeed. They want to see you get your education, but they don't want you to stay at an alternative school [like Marshall]."

Now, despite his frequent outbursts in class, James says he is confident that he can get transferred out of Marshall in time for fall semester.

But for all of James' optimism, it's clear that he frequently represses his frustrations, leaving them to come out only when it's impossible to contain them--like the time he exploded at the job counselor. In some ways, it's too futile to even discuss his problems. The way that state law works, his felony record could follow him for as many as eight years after he turns 18. Very few business people will hire convicted criminals, and even after James' record is expunged (which isn't automatic; it requires the services of a good lawyer), James will then be caught in the job market with no marketable skills.


The theory driving Seattle's alternative school system is called the "Whole Inclusion Movement," which got started in the early 1990s, says Terry Orr, an education professor at Columbia University. The tenets of this theory dictate that disruptive students be removed temporarily from the regular classroom so they can learn proper behavioral skills. But--and this is an important "but"--the students should always have an opportunity to return to a mainstream school.

"You do not want to permanently segregate kids and label them," Orr asserts. "The challenge is, how do you provide alternatives that do not label the kids and keep them from being segregated for the rest of their experience? It's an educational approach to address what is basically a behavioral problem." It's also an implicit admission of a crucial, if uncomfortable, fact of Western culture: Unless you're already born into wealth, you cannot succeed until you've learned to accept the basic social rules that govern our society. In the end, academics often play a back-seat role to conformity and assimilation.

With two full-time adults in a classroom with a relatively low number of students, Marshall has the kind of small class sizes that expensive private schools like to boast about. It's impossible to overstate what effect this can have on the learning environment; the "worst of the worst" are held in check, giving everyone in the class the opportunity to learn. Once the faculty members find they can control the classroom, surprising things happen. The teachers and CEAs love working at Marshall because they feel like they can interact directly with the students in a meaningful way. The students like it because, perhaps for the first time, they feel that someone's paying attention to them. The biggest problem with Marshall is that a student in need of this kind of attention has the option of leaving after only five weeks. That's hardly enough time for someone to truly take the more serious lessons of anger management and behavior modification to heart.

So Marshall officials do the best they can, and the re-entry program does about as well as can be expected. No one believes the system is going to work perfectly. No one thinks the Seattle School District can prepare each student to one day receive the Nobel Prize.

So what's the problem?

The most pressing question about Marshall is one that everyone ignores. Yes, there are plenty of students who like the place because they get plenty of attention, but where are all those kids who never show up?

High-school re-entry teacher Travis Blue shows me an attendance record for the first three days of that week. There are 22 students enrolled in this class. Of those, 11 students attended classes on Monday, 13 students attended classes on Tuesday, and 14 attended classes on Wednesday. "There were six students I didn't see at all last week," Blue says, looking down at his figures. "And of those, three are being dropped." Dropped--as in, expelled. They have used up their last chance at Last Chance High. Technically, if they plead their case, they can re-enroll in the re-entry program at South Lake High School (or, if they are in middle school, at the Center for Career Alternatives in Rainier Valley). If they don't re-enroll, though, they no longer exist, as far as the Seattle School District is concerned.

The clear impression I get from the Marshall faculty is that these absentee students are not a major concern. I interview Wayne McDade, the high school's re-entry CEA, and at one point he even forgets about these students.

"We've got about an 80 to 90 percent attendance record," he asserts. McDade is a broad-shouldered, rakishly attired African American, age 28. His opinions are a lesson in swaggering optimism.

Is that true? I reference Blue's attendance records. The statistics are more like 50 to 65 percent attendance.

"Oh, no," McDade says. "I'm talking about the normal ones."

The normal ones?

"The ones who've signed up for the class and come here regularly," McDade explains. "Those kids want to stay. I don't count those other ones because they don't want to come anyway. Our class should be like this [size of 14] every day." McDade had another phrase for the kids who stayed on at Marshall, who wanted to be mainstreamed. They were the "regular regulars."

I press Blue and other faculty members on what efforts they make to retain the "abnormal" kids. To a person, they all give matter-of-fact, nothing-can-be-done-about-it answers. They follow school district policy. Phone calls are made; letters are written; but if those attempts at communication fail, then the student is ultimately expelled. Neither local school board members nor the legislators in Olympia have instituted the kind of draconian anti-truancy policies that exist in other urban school systems. For instance, local judges don't have the power to fine or imprison parents because son Johnny skipped class again. "I probably call the parents three times a week," Blue says. Some of these students never even set foot in Marshall. They are just names that are added and removed from a list.

When I press harder, Blue gets candid for a moment. The Marshall high school re-entry program is known for its turnover, and the school district wants to keep it that way. "What we're doing is we're cleaning out the rolls to make way for the waiting list," Blue says. The Seattle School District always has a roster of expelled high school students waiting to get into Marshall. While there's no such waiting list for the middle school re-entry program, the attitude toward the absentee students is the same: We do what we can, so why worry? We have to focus on the kids who show up.

Where are these missing students? I ask the Marshall students who do show up, but they don't seem to know. Marshall students come from all over the city, and the school's "disappeared" students always seem to be from another neighborhood.

I could probably find some of these kids. Some of them may be at the county juvenile detention center at 12th Avenue and East Alder Street, awaiting a judge to sentence them to a few months in detention for some small but prosecutable misdemeanor. Others might have been captured on police videotape during the Mardi Gras riots in Pioneer Square. Still others could be at home with an abusive parent. Or they're just hiding in their rooms, smoking weed or sniffing glue--you fill in the next depressing stage in their non-accredited lives. At some point, many of these kids are going to be burdens on taxpayers in other ways, whether it's welfare and food stamps or prison and probation.

The depressing thing, unfortunately, is that no simple answer exists to this problem. Let's say the school district did come up with a drastic policy, maybe collaborating with the Seattle Police Department to have truants picked up from their homes and dragged into Marshall by their belt buckles. What would happen then? CEA McDade would suddenly be forced to deal with 22 students instead of 14, and those additional eight students might be some of the rowdiest kids he's ever seen. They might be more than even two adults in one class could handle. Suddenly, the "normal" kids in the re-entry program are not getting the attention they once had. They may even start acting up themselves, since nothing spreads like chaos in a high-school class. So the Marshall teachers and administrators have to decide whom they shall save and whom they shall let go.

Principal Drake is in the school library when I catch up with him. Today, he's wearing a green sweater-vest, dress shirt, and dark green pants. Even sitting down and more seriously dressed, he still looks like a bear.

Truancy is a problem throughout all the schools, Drake says, not just Marshall. And since simple truancy is not grounds for expulsion from the regular public schools, every school is battling the problem just like the re-entry programs. "We don't force kids to come to school," Drake says of Marshall. "We encourage them. And for some of them, this is the only safe place they have.... I've got kids in here who spent the night in a shelter. Some of these kids had to fend for themselves the night before.

"And some kids just say, 'Fuck it. I'm not going to school today.'"

But what's to be done? Since Marshall is Last Chance High...

"'Last Chance High' is the juvenile detention center," Drake says, cutting me off. "That's Last Chance High."

The names of all students in this article have been changed.